Negro League scribes left Major mark
Lacy, Smith pushed for baseball's integration
Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith never played a Major League game, nor did they coach or manage in one. But their impact on the sport will never be forgotten. As members of the black press, Lacy and Smith helped integrate Major League Baseball.
Lacy wrote his stories for several newspapers -- Washington Tribune, Chicago Defender and Baltimore Afro-American --- while Smith covered baseball for the Pittsburgh Courier. Throughout the 1930s and '40s, they constantly wrote that Negro League players such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell belonged in the same league as Joe DiMaggio and Dizzy Dean and protested against segregation throughout organized baseball.
"Lacy and Smith were instrumental in keeping the game of baseball in the public eye. Plus, they were activists when it came to integrating the Major Leagues. In those two areas they did some outstanding work," said Negro League historian James Riley, who wrote "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues."
Both Lacey and Smith did more than just write about desegregation. Lacy, for example, personally approached owners of big league teams and tried to convince them that integration was the right thing to do in the sport.
"I approached Clark Griffith of the Washington [Senators] team, and he told me it wouldn't be workable," Lacy told MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo in 2002, a year before Lacy passed away. "There were too many southerners in the league and there would be too many fights. I told him that was something baseball should police if they were serious. He said baseball wasn't ready.
"I had seen the teams come in to play [the Senators]. Having seen these guys, I got to thinking that some of these ballplayers, watching them play, are no better than the guys that play in the Negro Leagues. It just didn't seem proper or right."
According to Riley, Smith polled white players and managers to see if they would be in favor of integration in the Major Leagues. Riley has copies of most of Smith's baseball writing from the Pittsburgh Courier and Riley said that most of the players and managers favored integration. There's a story, for example, in which Hall Of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell is quoted as saying that Negro League players belong in the big leagues.
Lacy and Smith's persistence finally paid off, when Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a professional contract in 1946. The following season, Smith spent a lot of time with Robinson during Spring Training at the request of Rickey. Smith received $50 per week from the club for his efforts as well to scout other Negro League Players.
Integration in the Major Leagues slowly put an end to the Negro Leagues. The league folded in early 1960s.
"Once organized ball was integrated, everybody knew that the Negro Leagues would eventually disappear. [Lacy] knew this, but the fact is, he knew that it would be best for everyone if organized ball was integrated," Riley said.
Lacy and Smith did more than just integrate baseball on the field. They integrated the press box as well. Smith became the first African American to become a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America in the 1940 and both writers were recipients of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in the 1990s.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.